Efficient Data Acquisition
Will new technologies be able to break down the barriers to genome sequencing for large numbers of people? George Church, described in an article by Nick Paul Taylor in Fierce Biotech as a “prolific startup creator,” thinks so.
Church has co-founded Nebula Genomics, which will use blockchain technology and a cryptocurrency to enable the use of tokens “that enable people to anonymously share their data with buyers in return for virtual money that subsidizes the sequencing costs,” Taylor’s article explained. The actual sequencing will be done by another Church company, Veritas Genomics, which provides whole-genome sequencing for $999.
Nebula’s premise is that its strategy will overcome two problems cited in genome sequencing. According to Taylor, Nebula’s plan will “enable people to directly, anonymously sell their data to drug developers and other companies.” In removing the “middleman” by employing a “blockchain-enabled peer-to-peer network,” Nebula believes it can accommodate privacy issues while providing people “a way to subsidize their genome sequencing costs.”
In a 28-page white paper explaining its approach, Nebula said, “The first human genome was sequenced in 2001 at a cost of $3 billion. Today, human genome sequencing costs less than $1000, and in a few years the price will drop below $100. Thus, personal genome sequencing will soon be widely adopted as it enables better diagnosis, disease prevention and personalized therapies. Furthermore, if genomic data is shared with researchers, the causes of many diseases will be identified and new drugs developed. These opportunities are creating a genomic data market worth billions of dollars.”
As the white paper explained, Nebula wants to demonstrate its understanding of the market and ability to overcome problems “by significantly reducing the costs of personal genome sequencing, enhancing genomic data protection, enabling buyers to efficiently acquire genomic data and addressing the challenges of genomic big data.” Nebula claimed that it would accomplish these goals by means of “decentralization, cryptography and utilization of the blockchain.”
Nebula’s peer-to-peer network will allow data buyers to obtain genomic data directly from data owners without middlemen, letting data owners garner sequencing subsidies from data buyers and gain from sharing their data. By lowering sequencing costs, genomic data will grow, according to Nebula. The program will let data owners privately store genomic data and control access to the data while protecting shared data via zero-trust, encryption-based secure computing. Data owners will be anonymous, but data buyers will be transparent. The blockchain will store data transaction records. Nebula believes accommodating data privacy concerns will also promote genomic data growth.
To accommodate the problem of data fragmentation, the Nebula network will combine genomic data from individuals and genomic databanks. By using direct communication with data owners and a smart survey tool, data buyers can garner high quality trait information. Standardized data formats will make data curation easy, and smart contracts will automate and accelerate data purchases, according to Nebula. Using decentralized data storage, flexible utilization of available computing power and efficient file transfers, the Nebula network claims that it will absorb the upcoming data explosion.
Thus far, the company has raised $600,000 from an angel investor and may be getting another $1 million from another source.